Sustainable energy a breath of fresh air

WHEN Greenpeace declared New Zealand’s Meridian Energy to be the only ‘green’ electricity producer in the country, the company could have been forgiven for resting on its laurels.
However, not content with being carbon neutral or the largest electricity generator in the ‘land of the long white cloud’, Meridian expanded its interests overseas.
More recently, Meridian won the Environment Category at the 2012 Sustainable 60 Awards for setting a new benchmark in environmental management during the construction of projects.
Meridian External Relations general manager Guy Waipara said he was pleased to receive the award on behalf of the company.
“It gives real acknowledgment for the huge amount of work we’ve being doing in this area for a number of years,” he said.
“Our dedication to only developing renewable projects is a key commitment.
“This award also recognises the importance Meridian rightfully places on protection and restoration of the environment.”
Meridian’s foray into renewable energy in Australia began in 2010, when the company acquired the Mt Millar wind farm in South Australia.
Originally developed by Tarong Energy at a cost of $130 million, the asset was first sold to Transfield Services and subsequently to Meridian for $191 million.
The farm’s 35 turbines were constructed on an escarpment 100km southwest of Whyalla in SA.
Capable of generating up to 70 megawatts, the farm can power 36,000 homes. During its estimated 25-year operational lifespan, it is expected that the clean energy generated will offset 4.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Buoyed by the success of the Mt Millar venture, Meridian next teamed up with Australian company AGL to construct the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere: the Macarthur Wind Farm in
Marked by a visit from Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, the first turbine was installed in 2011.
To date, more than 50 turbines have been completed at the site of the $1 billion project. Meridian Australia chief executive Ben Burge said the project was on schedule and on budget.
“We expect to have 140 turbines generating power by early 2013,” he said. “The partnership with AGL has performed beyond expectations.
“Both organisations are positively engaged, providing collective expertise that contributes to the success of the project on the ground.”
The joint venture will generate 420MW — enough electricity to power 220,000 households — and will be one of the largest wind farms in the world.
While the project isn’t yet completed, power is already being generated and contributed to the Victorian state power grid.
The Mt Mercer Wind Farm is Meridian’s latest project on Australian soil.
Spread across seven landholdings and 2600 hectares, it will generate enough electricity to power the nearby city of Ballarat.
Construction on the $260 million project was scheduled to begin in December 2012 and is expected to take two years. Meridian chief financial officer Paul Chambers said the development was part of the company’s expansion into the Australian market.
“This project increases Meridian’s existing presence in Australia and further leverages Meridian’s proven experience in designing, building and managing wind farms,” he said.
“Wind is well positioned in Australia as the most viable renewable generation technology.
“Australia’s [Mandatory] Renewable Energy Target, requiring approximately one-fifth of electricity generation be produced from renewable sources by 2020, means that generation with a total capacity of more than 80 per cent of New Zealand’s entire generation base must be built in Australia by 2020.”
Meridian and its online subsidiary Powershop provide electricity to more than 290,000 homes and businesses in New Zealand, and Mr Chambers said Meridian would take the opportunity to trial its retail business in Australia.
“Powershop could be a natural adjunct to our renewable generation portfolio in Australia,” he said.
Meridian project director Wes Ferguson said the 131MW farm would have long-standing benefits for the community.
“The project will employ around 200 people during construction and upon completion it will provide about 20 permanent jobs in the local region,” he said.
“There will also be other external jobs in the local community for the supply chain, such as ongoing maintenance.
“During construction, Meridian will continue to engage the local community to ensure that the benefits of the wind farm are maximised and any impacts minimised.”
When completed, the wind farm will save more than 1.7mt of greenhouse gasses every year. The land that the turbines occupy will continue to be used for cropping, and sheep, cattle and pig farming.
The generators will connect to the Victorian grid via 23km of new, 132-kilovolt power line and a new terminal station near the town of Elaine.
New Zealand
Despite Meridian’s successful overseas exploits, the uncertainties in the New Zealand energy market have caused the company unexpected discomfort.
Used in New Zealand for more than 100 years, hydroelectricity (hydro) powers more than half the country.
Meridian owns and runs seven hydro stations, with another five under construction.
These power stations generate a combined 2288MW: enough to power 1.4 million homes. Record low inflows into hydro catchment areas resulted in lower than expected electricity generation, which impacted Meridian’s profits during the 2011 to 2012 financial year.
Meridian chief executive Mark Binns said the company was recovering from the lowest inflows in 79 years.
“We successfully managed our way through the unprecedented low inflows of last year,” he said.
“Since then our generation volumes have increased with recent inflows. “Meridian’s diversified renewable approach and integrated portfolio of generation and retail activities is key to the way we’re managing risk.”
As part of that diversification, Meridian’s four homegrown wind farms are also significant electricity generators.
The four sites have a combined capacity of 356MW. The West Wind Farm is the largest, with 62 turbines generating 142.6MW of power.
The US, Tonga and Antarctica Through its subsidiary Meridian Energy USA, Meridian is investing in solar energy in the US.
The company already has one solar farm in operation: the 5MW CalRENEW-1 facility in California.
In August 2012, Meridian achieved another milestone by helping to construct Maama Mai (Tongan for “let there be light”): Tonga’s first-ever solar farm.
The project was funded through the New Zealand Aid Programme and the expertise gained through Meridian’s US solar investments was critical to the project. Reducing electricity prices and saving 2000t of greenhouse gases every year, the farm generates 1.32MW and reduces Tonga’s use of diesel by 470,000 litres annually. Officially opened in 2010, Meridian’s Ross Island Wind Farm in Antarctica has three turbines, each of which generate 330 kilowatts.
The turbines power two scientific bases: the Scott Base (New Zealand) and the McMurdo Station (the US).
The development of the wind farm reduced dependency on imported diesel by nearly 500,000l and saves an estimated 1242t of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
A performance review of the turbines for the year ending in February 2012 found that the turbines were exceeding output expectations.
Meridian Renewable Development general manger Ken Smales said he was “delighted” that the farm had delivered 111 per cent of its production target.
“We’re hugely proud of the Ross Island Wind Farm [and] it strongly emphasises Meridian’s and New Zealand’s commitment to renewable energy,” he said.
“It’s very satisfying for our team to see this asset delivering beyond target. “It was an exceptionally challenging build in one of the harshest environments on the planet, so it’s great to see the benefits the
wind farm is bringing to the bases.” Removal of the gearbox from each turbine at the Antarctic farm reduced the need for lubricant and ensured that less maintenance was required: technicians need only service the machines once a year and, with average temperatures on Ross Island hovering around -20 degrees Celsius, this is a welcome bonus.
To combat the extremely high winds, each turbine has a 13t concrete foundation block.
As one of the few ice-free areas on the island, Crater Hill was chosen as the location for the turbines.
The site met several key operational prerequisites: it sits high on the island, has a strong average wind speed and is in close proximity to the McMurdo Station and Scott Base.
The other main challenge that had to be overcome was powering two bases running on two different electrical frequencies while also integrating diesel generation. Antarctica New Zealand asset management team leader Jonathan Leitch said the project had enjoyed a successful year.
“The wind farm has been harnessing what nature provided and there was a good wind resource in this second year,’ he said. “Our technical team also made some changes to the operational systems to
maximise performance.”
“We’re always looking to continuously improve – and that’s being as efficient as possible with diesel consumption and potentially reducing it further.”
As the old adage goes, ‘fortune favours the brave’, and Meridian’s overseas activities have been paying handsome dividends.
While its renewable energy projects continue to have positive outcomes, it’s unlikely that the company will gear down any time soon.

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